Midtown Happy Hour: Wakamba Wins Dinstinction of Being Only Dive Mamacita Has Ever Hated

If you like to eat, chances are you like to drink (read: a lot of you are freakin’ lushes), so I thought maybe it was time to introduce a happy hour column to the site. Every week, our Happy Hour Correspondent “Mamacita” will post about a different bar in Midtown that fits the Midtown Lunch mentality: unhealthy food, not lame (unless it’s lame in a cool way), and most importantly… cheap. This week she hits up Wakamba, a dive bar that should be right up her alley.  Only it wasn’t…


The Distinguished Wakamba Cocktail Lounge cemented its roots in the seamy stretch of 8th Avenue when in 2000 an unarmed Brooklyn man was shot and killed in a fracas with three undercover narcotics detectives on the bar’s doorsteps. This is now the unsavory reputation that has publicly followed Wakamba, but this is not the reason tourists or professional don’t want to be caught dead there (no pun intended).

You see at first look Wakamba has all the makings of a great dive. It has a memorable and quirky name (it’s distinguished after all), plus a Hawaiian meets nautical theme. It’s fully equipped with fish netting, Hawaiian leis, bamboo, paper lanterns, life savers, plastic fish and flowers. It even has a small Catholic altar perched on the side of the front windows, Mets and Yankees jerseys, and a ceiling that looks like the dingy whipped peaks of a frosted cake.

Sounds awesome right?

Then you notice the two guys in leather jackets leaning against a wall eyeing up their phones like they were beepers waiting for an illicit deal to come through. The two talked in only grunts and one turned out to be the manager. At the bar you are met with a long row of hunchbacked drinkers staring bleak eyed at the TV screens over their bottles of Bud.


The crowd is 99% Latino males, with the other 1% being the female middle-aged bartenders in bustiers, lacy tank tops and short shorts. All of which do not want anything to do with any newbie, tourist or gringo trying to catch a drink. I noticed the bartender spoke Spanish so I tried to order from her. After many a “con permiso” and “por favor puedo ordenar” she leaned over right next to me and asked the people behind me if they needed a beer. I practically had to jump up and down and wave my arms in the air. When I did get some service I realized why she had to wear a skanky outfit, it was the only thing distracting from her bad personality.


Now I would usually gloss over this, because in general I try to emphasize the positives -like a great happy hour, interesting regulars or even a friendly bartender. In this bar’s case I can’t say any of the aforementioned niceties exist. The happy hour is not cheap. Wakamba carries mostly domestic bottles with some exceptions like Heineken and Coronas and all are $5. This is far from a deal, yet the place was packed with day laborers doing shots and drinking bottle after bottle. The music was all rancheras and popular Latin music, which I actually liked, yet no one seemed to be enjoying or even noticing it. The place was just plain depressing.

So in the end what distinguishes Wakamba is not its newsworthy history only its rude and sour barmaids and utterly downtrodden clientele. Take my advice, if you are thirsty head over to a block to White Castle or Taco Bell and grab a soda. You’ll probably enjoy yourself more there.


  • Very eclectic décor that can be quite a sight to see and drink by
  • Perhaps if you catch this place during early hours when there are less patrons you might get better service or maybe someone might (shocker) try and talk to you
  • Definitely a slice of old school 8th Avenue


  • Definitely a slice of old school 8th Avenue
  • Rude bartenders and dubious manager
  • Beer is $5 not a deal for a dive bar
  • If you’re a gringo you might as well give up and go to any of my other favorite dives in the area (Holland anyone?)

The Distinguished Wakamba Lounge, 543 Eighth Ave. (near 37th St.), No phone

Photos and Post by Mamacita.


  • Love it when you’re moody.

    Had a feeling this would be a bad’un

    Best pub in da’world?


  • They probably thought you were po po.

  • You should take D with you next time – he can be all in their face and threatening to beat them up behind the tetherball court if they don’t give you good service n stuff

  • ha ha, you were a block away from Stitch and across the street from Hound’s Tooth..

  • Sorry Fred I try and stay away from crack spots.

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    Got an interesting story about this place, I used to work around this place and there is definitely something else going on in this place.

    Long story short…
    One time two coworkers were there getting a quick drink when they noticed that a ton of drinks and food were being sent to some backroom/downstairs area behind some door. When they asked about it (as in whether there was a private party), the bartender said there was nothing going on. They pressed the issue and said they’d like to check out this place where the food and drinks were being sent and the bartender got hostile and got some bouncer-type of staff involved. They were asked to not return and got thrown out.

    I think we need mamacita to do some investigative reporting on this place to figure out how it stays in business.

  • I’ve always had a good time at the DW, for many of the same reasons that you hated it, except that the bartenders were always friendly to me. Then again, it’s not the type of joint to be taking snapshots of dudes belly-up after work trying to get their drink on. Maybe that’s what soured their mood.

    Oh, and I’m a gringo.

  • Boom, trust me all those pics were done with out them knowing. (I have a small camera that is perfect for night pics with out using a flash, plus I had a sexy blond bombshell seated next to me to draw attention away) I’m not stupid about my dive bars. I’ve been going to dive bars, oh jeeze I don’t even want to say for how long. I also have a reputation for being notoriously successful at making friends and becoming one of the regulars at even the nastiest bars. I have pics of me with lots of the bartenders and owners of the 8th ave and 9th ave dives. Holland still emails me inviting me to their private parties. Just sayin’

  • I’m not trying to question your dive bar cred, but you did basically call it anti-gringo, which it’s not.

  • That is your best, or at least most interesting, bar thusfar! Wakamba Lounge, a classic latenight blackout destination for Goats. I’ve been there, but I’ll be damned if I remember it….There are a few outliers left, but this was f’ng awesome! No holds barred for mamacita—this is truly hardcore!

  • Ha! Well if Goats likes it, then maybe we’ll hit it up again together. I did love all the weird decorations. I wish a bottle of Bud wasn’t $5 though

  • Can’t believe you did Wakamba, M. Port 41, yes. Wakamba….. You crazy, girl. Is crack 2 for 1 during happy hour?

  • I used to work by there as well and went on several occasions with my old coworkers. In my experience, unless you’re ordering Corona or Presidente (or aguardiente….ugh), you’re gonna have a language barrier issue if you don’t speak Spanish. I wouldn’t call it anti-gringo, but it’s not overly friendly either. It is what it is.

    I agree too that there is DEFINITELY something shady going on downstairs in that place but we never found out what it was.

  • This place sounds like a latin version of the Double Deuce, the crappy bar that Dalton spiffied up in Roadhouse. Sounds like Brad Wesley and his crew were up to no good in the backroom/downstairs when dubs was thrown out.

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